Within hidden chambers inside caves in northern France, an incredible secret of the Great War was recently rediscovered – the signatures and graffiti of French, English and Australian soldiers etched over 100 years ago.
Hidden caves in northern France bear the signatures of Great War soldiers.
Like many others in the region, the village of Naours was a place for soldiers to rest and recuperate “behind the lines”. Cheeky Aussies visited and left their names on walls as a legacy. Many would go off to the battlefields and never return.
Caves were a refuge in the Middle Ages
Back in the Middle Ages, the caves were hollowed out as a refuge for the local village, only to be rediscovered and explored by a local abbot (head of a monastery) in the late 18th century.
More recently, French archaeologist Gilles Prileaux and his team rediscovered the caves and unearthed the incredible stories of what happened to these men over 100 years ago.
Having been part of the Lost Diggers of Vignacourt project, my wife Donna and I became involved with Gilles and his team, while working in a small village near Naours, Vignacourt, that was also once behind the lines during WWI.
3000 signatures, mostly by Aussies
Beneath the small village of Naours, over 3000 signatures are recorded on the walls of a network of ancient underground caves. Most signatures were scrawled by Australian soldiers while on leave or training for combat in Vignacourt and surrounding areas. Many went off to WWI battlefields and never returned, leaving their names forever etched in history.
Together with a local high school, we have been involved in the research and investigation of these signatures, matching them with the names and biographies of soldiers. From this research, Donna, Gilles, Matthieu Beuvin and I wrote The Silent Soldiers of Naours: Messages from Beneath the Somme.
Signatures matched with soldiers' bios
This is a military book with a heart, and it includes images of signatures and graffiti (drawings) matched to the names of Australian soldiers with their full biographies and pictures. It is a unique story that offers something new to readers interested in the history of WWI.
In late 2018, an exhibition was coordinated with the Royal Historical Society of Queensland to tell the story of the Queensland Diggers who left their names at Naours.
You can follow this story and that of the caves at www.silentsoldiersofnaours.com and on Facebook.